Identifying The Main Idea

shattered lives

In an earlier post I shared my reflections about launching a nonfiction unit with my 6th graders. One of texts I’m currently using in this unit is a narrative nonfiction article from Scholastic titled Shattered Lives by Kristin Lewis.

This article helps middle school students learn about The Syrian Crisis from the perspective of a child, who along with her family and countless others, are refugees displaced by war. There are numerous reasons to return to this article again and again throughout my unit. Teaching and reviewing nonfiction features and structures are major reasons as this article offers opportunities for rich instruction in these areas.

The main way I’m using this article early in my unit, is to help students identify the main idea and support their thinking with details from the text. There are many terms used synonymously with the term main idea. This can be problematic for students who can become confused thinking that perhaps they’re being asked different things.  For example, while I teach students the difference between topic and main idea, sometimes these terms are interchangeable in texts and on exams. What I want my students to recognize is that all of these terms are asking students to think about the most important point an author is communicating to us in the writing. To make this process less murky for my students, I’ve created this graphic to demonstrate the sometimes-nebulous nature of the term main idea.

main idea

I decided to start this article with students in small, guided-reading groups. I modeled for students how to read nonfiction slower, in sections, and then to pause to monitor for meaning. The following chart helped me to assess students’ progress determining the main idea of a section, identifying details that connect to the main idea, and asking questions that would propel them forward as readers. Great resources for charts like this can be found in Jen Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book.

nonfiction main idea chart

Finally, as a result of reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park alongside of Shattered Lives by Kirsten Lewis, we made a list of subtopics that relate to these readings. We plan to use these subtopics, as well as others, to flex our researcher muscles and further investigate topics of interest. In this way, we will continue to cultivate our love of nonfiction!



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